Businesswoman and engineer Wanda Austin is breaking barriers for Black women in higher education. Austin was recently appointed to serve as the interim president of the University of Southern California; becoming the first African-American woman to hold that position, the institution reported.
Austin has had a storied career in the engineering space. She co-founded a company called MakingSpace Inc., a non-profit focused on creating inclusive opportunities for collaboration, and she also served as the president and CEO of the Aerospace Corp., a non-profit that used STEM strategies to address issues faced by the country’s space program. Austin has served on several boards at organizations in the STEM field, including the Defense Science Board and the NASA Advisory Council.
One of her biggest career accomplishments was being appointed to serve on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology while former President Barack Obama was in office. Austin has deep ties to USC. She earned her doctorate degree in systems engineering from the institution and in 2010 was appointed to serve on USC’s Board of Trustees. This year, she was the recipient of the USC Presidential Medallion.
Austin is humbled to take on the role at her alma mater. “I need to think about our students who are coming to campus, making sure that we are fully prepared to embrace them in the way that gives them the confidence that they are going to have the academic experience that they expected; and to be able to reassure parents that this is a great decision for their student, one that really ensures that they’re going to have a bright and promising future,” she said in an interview with USC News. “I need to engage with our faculty and remind them about the wonderful opportunity that they have to shape the minds and direction that our future leaders are going to go.”
Black women are rising through the ranks at colleges and universities across the country. In August it was announced that for the first time in Harvard University’s history, four of the institution’s schools will be led by African-American women.